On the War in Iraq

It's close to the end of the fourth year since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. And it's hard not to hear something of Auden's line about this being a low, dishonest decade.

During the recent "debates" in the U.S. House and Senate, I was rather troubled by some of the refrains about "having known then what we know now," with fingers pointed at the failed intelligence reports. The trouble is that many of us knew then that the intelligence reports were suspect, and those stories were being published before the war, first by Knight Ridder, and later The Washington Post--not every reporter was following the lead of that neo-con cheerleader, Judith Miller. During that winter of 2002-03, many of us anti-war protesters simply believed that it was highly unlikely that with all the UN inspection regiments, the international sanctions, and the no-fly zones that Hussein would've been able to develop a significant bio- or chemical-weapons arsenal. We also knew that he did not use any such weapsons during the first Gulf War, when he had some military capabilities. It wasn't that we were happy with Hussein's dictatorship, but we also knew that he was essentially neutered. Given Iraq's sad history, some of us knew that the American forces would not be seen as liberators, but as an unwanted occupation army. Some of us also remembered the National Defense Council (the neo-con "advisory" committee to the Department of Defense) had long been jonsing for the United States to take out Hussein and to establish military bases there so that we could get out of Saudia Arabia. Some of us knew that this was a hollow call for war.

I bring all this up not to boast, but to direct you to the Poets Against the War web site. There, you can find expression after expression by poets before the war commenced, all of whom articulated this sense of dread before this grave, terrible folly. There, you can also find a poem I posted as well. I don't think any of the participants genuinely believed poetry could affect a change of heart in the Executive Office or could give a backbone implant to Congress, but that we could provide a record that many of us did indeed understand that this excursion was an act of vanity, greed, or opportunism. Many of us knew better, then.

The way I see it now is that Congress gave up its authority four years ago, the American media was caught up in the war fever, the American public was not sated by the military victory in Afghanistan, and thus the President had leave to deploy the troops in Iraq. I cannot think of one more wrong-headed and foolish decision in American foreign policy. And the noise this weekend in the Capitol is only that, so much noise.

Of course, by the time we leave Iraq--perhaps after this "surge" will be reported as a success--it will be a hopeless mess, having cost the U.S. treasury of at least 3100 dead, tens of thousands wounded, and close to a trillion dollars (not for Katrina, not for Afghanistan, not for Israel and Palestine, not for Darfur, not for Social Security, not for education, not for health care, not for . . . .). And of Iraq, with hundreds of thousands dead, millions as refugees, a decimated infrastructure, a partioned government, and a generation born of sectarian bloodshed? Yes, that's a recipe for a nascent democracy.